Give us a Merc GLC 200 with no off-roading equipment, and of course, the next thing we do is get lost in the jungle
KOTA KINABALU, EAST MALAYSIA – So there we were, another journalist and I, wondering where “there” was and scratching our heads because what else was there to do? We knew we were somewhere in the hills surrounding Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia’s highest peak, so we might well have gotten ourselves lost on a patch of earth considered pretty sacred. So sacred, in fact, that a bunch of tourists landed themselves in the clink for taking pics at the summit with their kit off two years ago. And I don’t mean their mountaineering kit.
To the right of our Mercedes GLC 200 lay an impenetrable wall of lush vegetation, and to the left, sometimes more vegetation, sometimes a shortcut to the bottom of the hill, the kind a mountain goat would think twice about taking if he had any sense of self-preservation. Behind us lay the ribbon of mud that we had joined, desperate to flee the boredom of the narrow B-road linking Kinabalu Park with civilisation. And ahead? Our hotel, hopefully, but not even the satnav system seemed sure. There was no turning back now because, well, trees on the right, cliff on the left.
So we did what two manly men would naturally do in a situation like that: argue about whose fault it was that we were lost. The other guy, the British chap doing the driving, pointed out that leaving the tarmac had been entirely my idea. I countered that, as a former editor of Land Rover Owner International magazine, it was only reasonable that he be expected to guide the GLC through any off-roading obstacle safely. This went on for some time until, to keep everyone focused on the task at hand, matter, I rather helpfully informed him that we were deep in headhunter territory, which for all I knew, we were. “You know they have a taste for white meat, right?” I said. Then his face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.
We were at Kinabalu as guests of Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, in the latest of the company’s “Hungry for Adventure” events, although with social media coverage apparently all the rage there now, everyone kept calling it the #hungryforadventure drive.
Journalists, bloggers and people who wore yoga pants all the time had been invited to infest the area and drive a variety of Merc SUVs: GLCs, GLC Coupes, a GLE Coupe and even a GLS. The event served as an informal launch for the GLC 200 there; until its entry, the first rung on Merc’s mid-size SUV ladder had been the GLC 250 4Matic. You can apparently finance the GLC 200 in Malaysia for RM2,888/month, which works out to S$930. Here, have a Kleenex.
In Singapore, you’ll need to come up with S$225,888 if you want a GLC 200 (no 4Matic, you’ll note), which makes it S$10k cheaper than the GLC 250 4Matic. Since it was also new to our market I cleverly decided not to let go of it once I got hold of it.
Except it isn’t quite so clever to hog a car with no all wheel-drive, no transfer case, no bash plates and no off-road tyres if you’re planning to make an unplanned trip into the wild brown yonder.
Still, the GLC 200 acquitted itself pretty well in the jungle, in that it never got stuck and only squirmed around a little when the going got steep. I never got behind the wheel myself the whole time it was on the muddy stuff, because (a) I don’t expect any GLC owner in Singapore to put a wheel off-road, ever, and (b) I’d found out from a local guide that leeches sometimes fall out of trees onto your head if it’s been rainy, and I didn’t fancy taking the wheel if it meant getting out of the car.
Anyway, if you’re the sort of nutjob who thinks the jungle is a good place to drive, what you’ll want is a G-Wagen, because your nutjob friends will envy you if you have one. On the road is where all GLCs live and belong, which is a pretty fortunate thing, because of all the Mercedes SUVs, it is the sweetest on tarmac.
Kinabalu is part of a mountain range, which means there are mountain roads all around the place, and surprisingly they provide the sort of conditions for the Mercedes to thrive in: a broad range of cornering radii, the odd crest, and one lane for each direction, meaning the chance for a bit of carefully-judged overtaking.
That last point does reveal that the GLC 200 has a bit less of the goods under the bonnet than the GLC 250, but it’s still a decently brisk car. It’ll breeze to 100km/h in 8.3secs, which is a whole second slower than the GLC 250’s time, and enough of a gap that your fanny will be able to detect the difference, but there’s still enough acceleration for you to wallop most of the cars around you in the city. Overtaking? Well, if you want excitement, you actually have more of it the less power you have for passing other cars. Anyway, I can remember when you needed a 3.0-litre V6 to get this much performance, so what’s there to complain about?
No whining about the handling, either. It’s a tallish SUV, so the GLC 200 should be horrible around corners, but to my delight I find that it isn’t. You can sling it from bend to bend and far from groaning through the experience, it actually sort of perks up and feels alert, like it’s eager for more. OK, the threshold of grip isn’t high, so you’ll have the tyres squealing in no time, but beneath the stolid, Mercedes-Benz demeanour of the car lies a surprisingly playful machine.
That doesn’t come at the expense of ride quality, either. There’s nothing fancy under the wheelarches, in the form of air springs or active dampers, but the GLC 200’s passive setup hits a nice sweetspot between plushness and solid body control.
You won’t miss the 4Matic system, either, because no matter how hard car companies try to sell you on the idea of all wheel-drive, if you’re starting out with RWD you just don’t need it in our climate. You don’t even need it to use #hungryforadventure in your Instagram posts. The GLC 200 gets along just fine with rear wheel-drive, so much so that I’ve started to think I might have one over the C-Class on which it’s based, or the E-Class to which it’s closer in price. It’s just a bit more subversive than either, especially when you’re charging up mountain roads in it.
I don’t buy the idea that there are better cars to lose yourself in the jungle in, either. If you’re trying to avoid disappearing into the wild, just do the sensible thing and avoid it altogether, especially when there are headhunters about. It’s one thing to be hungry for adventure, but why go where there might be someone hungry for adventurers?
Mercedes-Benz GLC 200
Engine: 1991cc inline4
Transmission: 9spd auto
Top speed: 212km/h
Fuel consumption: 7.0l/100km